SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship landed on Earth after a month-long trip to the International Space Station. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with a Dragon spacecraft onboard, left Earth on June 3, carrying approximately 6,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS, and it successfully landed Monday in the Pacific southwest of Los Angeles.

This marked the first re-flight of one of SpaceX’s unpiloted supply ships to the space station. The Dragon departed the ISS Monday at 2:41 a.m. EDT (0641 GMT) when NASA astronaut Jack Fischer commanded the outpost’s robotic arm to release the spaceship.

SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship landed on Earth after a month-long trip to the International Space Station. Image credit: SpaceX
SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship landed on Earth after a month-long trip to the International Space Station. Image credit: SpaceX

The Dragon cargo capsule returned to Earth carrying more than 4,100 pounds of cargo and research specimens.

Dragon capsule completed first re-flight of a SpaceX unmanned vehicle to the ISS

The Dragon conducted its second trip to the orbiting research facility. SpaceX had refurbished the craft following its first mission back in September and October 2014.

“Dragon’s been an incredible spacecraft,” Fischer told mission control a few minutes after Dragon departed the outpost, according to Spaceflight Now. “I could even say it was slathered in awesome sauce. This baby had almost no problems, which is an incredible feat considering it’s the first reuse of a Dragon vehicle.”

Some of the items carried back to Earth on the Dragon included live mice from an experiment that analyzes the effectiveness of a therapeutic drug to promote bone growth, to combat atrophy in astronauts in space and patients with osteoporosis on Earth. The mice will be euthanized and examined upon their arrival to the lab.

During his mission control call, Fischer said that most of the 6,000 pounds of cargo carried to the ISS was science, and almost all of the return cargo is precious samples for discoveries they can’t wait to see. He added that Dragon brought them a host of external experiments and that they’ve attached an external platform for science, a neutron star analyzer and a new solar array that “rolled out like a party horn on New Year’s Eve.”

The cargo capsule was scheduled to return on Sunday but was pushed forth a day due to rough seas in the splashdown zone around 260 miles (420 kilometers) southwest of Long Beach, California.  SpaceX engineers controlled the capsule from Hawthorne, California.

New studies will benefit from samples of experiments conducted in space

One of the experiments conducted partially on the ISS is called the Fruit Fly Lab-02 experiment, which seeks to understand the effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity on the heart. NASA said on its website that the experiment could significantly advance understanding of how spaceflight affects astronauts’ cardiovascular systems.

The osteoporosis experiment, dubbed the Systemic Therapy of NELL-1, used mice as models to test a new drug that can rebuild bone and block further bone loss, thus improving the crew’s health. NASA explained that when people and animals spend long periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, known as osteoporosis. There are some measures to counter its effect –like exercise- but there isn’t a therapy that can restore bone density. Researchers hope that with the new samples they will be able to assess the effect of this new drug to treat bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

The third experiment, called the Cardiac Stem Cells, looked at how microgravity affects stem cells and the factors that govern stem cell activity. The new study focuses on fully understanding cardiac stem cell function, which is known to have many biomedical and commercial applications.

Another Dragon capsule is scheduled to launch to the ISS on August

The return also marked the first time a Dragon capsule has splashed down at nighttime. Fischer took several pictures of the capsule’s departure, including one that captured a view of the plasma trail left behind it during re-entry.

When the Dragon splashed down in the ocean, a SpaceX recovery team recovered it and carried it onto a boat for a two-day trip to the Port of Los Angeles, where the scientific samples and time-sensitive cargo will be handed over to NASA officials and research teams.

The Dragon capsule is currently the only space vehicle that can carry cargo to orbit and return intact. Other operating cargo vehicles, including Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft, Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, and Russia’s Progress freighter are designed to burn up when they reach the atmosphere after their first and only use.

Another Dragon capsule is scheduled to launch to the ISS on August 1 from the Kennedy Space Center and will mark the company’s 12th cargo mission. A mission is also scheduled for November.

Source: Spaceflight Now